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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Autos

Generational mobility gap

It’s now an established fact that Millennials are not as enamored with motor vehicles as Baby Boomers were — or even still are.  I’ve written as far back as a decade ago that the thrill is gone for young people reaching driving age — especially when compared to me and my Boomer friends when we turned 15.5 years old.

Back then, everything revolved around getting a driving permit, driver training, and the holy grail of driving freedom on the day one turned 16.  By contrast, a University of Michigan study published in 2012 found that only six in ten Americans aged 17-19 have their drivers’ licenses.  That compares starkly with 1980 when the number was eight out of ten — I’ll bet the number was nearly 10 out of 10 in 1967 when I took the driving test on my 16th birthday.

Today, the trend continues whereas by 2018 only 25% of eligible 16 year-olds had a license. Even the 60% of those aged 17-19 who were driving in the 2012 study has eroded to 50%.  In 2020 the figures are still headed downward.

On top of that, those Millennials and Gen Zs are not just shunning driving.  Much to the consternation of automakers, vehicle purchases by the emerging youth are dropping measurably.  Countless market research surveys reveal that the latest generations simply do not put car ownership particularly high on their list of things to do.

Why the lack of interest?  There are likely many causal factors, but one has to do with the vehicles for sale when kids are at the highly impressionable ages of 12-15 — those years coincidently lead right up to the 16 year-old legal driving age prevalent in most states.

In Baby Boomer and Gen X’s teen years, each new model year of every vehicle changed drastically — there was big secrecy up to the annual unveiling.  Then, a five year old car looked ancient — now a five year old car looks about like the current one.  As mentioned earlier, that thrill is gone.  Those cars were marketed actively to the youth market back then too — today, most cars models are discontinued in favor of SUVs and stick shifts are almost obsolete.

Even now, there are a lot more Boomers than Millennials at any given car show — mostly gray-haired and still holding on to the interest in those adored vehicles of their younger days.

Besides the dwindling exuberance toward vehicles themselves, the general indifference or downright unwillingness to drive is a product of the times.  With new standards of mobility—ride sharing, car sharing, and the “threat” of AI and autonomous vehicles, young Americans don’t feel that they need to drive. So, we have a stark and wide generational mobility gap.

A common attitude of Millennials and Gen Zs is if they can avoid having to drive a car, they will happily find a way to accomplish that.  If they don’t want to drive, they certainly don’t want to purchase a car — maybe they are even paying off student debt, adding another deterrent.

Given their reduced excitement for new car models, indifference to ownership, student debt, growing mobility alternatives, a waning interest in obtaining a driver’s license and a distaste of driving in general, it’s no wonder that today’s youth feel totally different about their mobility than I once did and still do.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.